Are you looking for street photography in Hanoi? I’ve lived there for 2 years (I am a family nomad) Here are 10 tips to shoot there and loads of inspiration. To be honest, looking at my catalog I didn’t make as many images as I would have like: Wife and both kids were sick on and off and my images were thrown on the wayside. Oh well, let’s dig in:
Street Photography in Hanoi: Inspiration + 10 tips
1. Go to this street
Where to do street photography in Hanoi? Hanoi’s best street photography street is the Old Quarter area, it’s near the Hoan Kiem lake. It is BURSTING with activity and on weekends some of the areas are blocked so it’s a huge walking street. You can go hours on end simply walking and shooting in the Old Quarter area and it’s THE area to go for street shooting.
2. Watch out for scams
Imagine this: You are walking down an road in Old Quarter when all of a sudden a man jumps at your shoes, telling you LOOK! It’s broken…and you take a look to realize that indeed your shoes are falling apart. He proposes to fix it for a fee. You agree and he fixes it for you. What luck, right? WRONG. He’s the one that threw a special de-glue substance to undo your shoes. This is a very common scam in Hanoi, so watch out as you are going down the streets shooting pictures.
Look at the streets and if anyone seems to have a shoe-repair kit, be prepared to move your feet right or left as they plunge and say NO as if you mean business. Since I speak Korean I remember warning a Korean man that this was a scam, but he said “But my shoes are bad indeed”….it was too late. This is the only scam that is prevalent and I have experienced personally (but I avoided the substance).
3. Focus on this specific color
Hanoi is a pretty colorful place, but weirdly enough there is a color that is not only particularly photogenic, it gives your images a certain “Vietnam flair” to it. What color am I talking about? Yellow. There is a predominance of yellow walls in Hanoi, and coupled with the fact that a lot of these walls are well worn it gives the images a lot of character.
There’s also lots of sprinkles of red too due to the fact that the Vietnam flag is red, red+yellow are somewhat analogous (more on street photography color theory here) so it makes for a dynamic combination. Even if you don’t go directly for the yellows, keep an eye out for colors that would contrast with yellow and shoot those as they appear in the streets. Look at all of the color shots on this page…they all bend to the yellow side.
4. Ask for portraits
If you want to make a portrait of someone don’t hesitate to ask…and also to reward financially. I’m not a fan of this but vendors are selling their wares for a buck or two, so life is hard for a lot of honest working Vietnamese. I’m fine going home with a great image and them a few bucks extra for a simple portrait.
5. Shoot the aesthetic alleyways
Just like there’s something special about Hong Kong alleyways, there is something special about Hanoi alleyways. They are full of character and unlike HK’s they almost always have a crowd around, at least a subject around OR someone will eventually appear if you are a little patient. If you are in the street while the sun is going down, the combination of yellows and the rays of the sun make for a powerful combo.
6. Make flat images
There’s VERY little sidewalks in Hanoi, and while parents like me are pissed at walking in the streets with the kids, this creates a great photo opportunity for street photographers. Lots of places around the city have huge stretches of (mostly yellow) walls, and since everything is put in such a small sidewalk area, it creates the possibility of creating “flat images”. Where it looks like a painting without depth because everything is just on one layer.
For images like these, simply look for ample walls and interesting subjects in front, go across the streets, turn back and snap the picture. If you look the the photo above it looks like people are actors on a stage with a yellow background. It’s because they are essentially on one layer. Also…see how most of the images bend towards yellow?
7. Photograph the Storefronts
There’s something special about the storefronts in Vietnam. You can even make a project out of it, and the good news is, there’s plenty of subject matter like that in Hanoi. Many of the sellers are actually in a small rectangle making it easy to really get close and only photograph what’s in the store, or you can use the rectangle as a frame within a frame and compose that way. Because the storefronts are usually in the shade, and outside usually sunny you will have to keep your hands ready to change exposure quickly. Most shopkeepers nowadays have phones so they are so absorbed by their screen that you will most likely shoot and they won’t even notice.
8. Go lower
A lot of action happens not only at eye level in Hanoi, but also at hip level. It’s because there’s lots of random little sellers selling food by the streets and they bring low plastic chairs for people to eat around. So don’t just have your camera at eye level but also at the hip level because that’s where a LOT of the action will be in the streets. Like these Black and whites? They have been processed with these.
9. Look for dramatic light
Come at the right time early in the morning or as the sun starts going down and you will have some really outstanding shot possibilities. Not only that it will be rush hour so there will be plenty of subjects to shoot and work the magic of the light. So go to the old quarter around 5 and the combination of sun-rays and subjects will be like shooting fish in a barrel.
10. Incorporate the lake
Around the lake is much more quieter than the Old Quarter area proper but what it lacks in chaos, it makes for in charm and unique subjects. This is where people go to relax and also shoot their engagement pictures so you’ll find a place where you can slow down but also make a lot of shots.
Hanoi is a wonderful street photography city. It’s gritty, lots of subjects, really stunning light when it’s starting to do down…simply wonderful. I wish I had spent more time hitting the pavement, but family first!
Also, since you are reading this, you are interested in street photography, right? Then check out Inspired Eye magazine featuring international street photography. I also have an online street photography workshop that reveals a step-by-step system that makes stunning street photography. Be yourself stay focused and keep on shooting